Dec 31 2009

The Business of IT

It seems everywhere you turn in the federal
community these days, you're bombarded with
discussions about information technology
architecture: What is it? Why is it important?
How do I create one? How do I manage with
one? Where do I find IT architects? In survey after
survey, federal CIOs list IT architecture as one of
their top priorities.

Contrast this with the situation
only a few years ago, when CIOs were
not conversant in architecture-speak.
To make matters worse, IT architects—
and their eye-glazing briefings on
budding architectural projects—were
routinely banished from proximity
to the executive suite.

What has changed?
Why has IT architecture
come so overwhelmingly
in vogue? What makes
CIOs repeat the refrain,
architecture, my
kingdom for an

The short answer
is that Office of
Management and
Budget (OMB)
leadership in
President Bush's
administration clearly
sees IT architecture—when
used in conjunction with IT
capital planning—as a key
management tool. More
precisely, the President's
Management Agenda is shining
a bright spotlight on more
effective management
of costs and improvement of results.

OMB has embarked on a course
that will consolidate systems,
programs and infrastructures to
achieve those objectives, and IT
architecture is the compass. As
a key planning and analysis tool,
architecture is being used to guide
both strategic and tactical decisions.

Let's look at the duplication of
systems and efforts to solve what are
essentially the same problems—a
common issue both within agencies
and across government. Such
duplication results in increased costs,
as well as inefficiencies in process
and information handling at the
enterprise level.

Looking Across Common Functions

At the federal level, OMB has
spearheaded creation of the Federal
Enterprise Architecture (FEA), which
lets OMB look across many of
the common business functions of
government. The agency has begun
to use this capability to examine
proposed IT investment projects and,
most importantly, to refuse to fund
efforts that will duplicate a similar
existing capability or a project that is
under way.

Looking through the FEA lens,
OMB also has begun to scrutinize
information technology infrastructure
across the federal government and to
press for consolidation.

Using this tool, OMB can peer
through the fog of claimed
"uniqueness" of both application
systems and infrastructures and reveal
the unifying similarities among them.
This clarifies management vision and
facilitates the making and executing
of budget decisions.

But, as powerful as such tools are,
the most powerful—the Performance
Reference Model—has yet to be fully

Imagine a Model

Imagine, if you will, a model of
common business processes and the
discrete activities that together make
up those processes, used in conjunction
with metrics that specify expected

Then imagine a cost associated with
each unit of performance. For example, a
number of agencies publish regulations
through the formal rulemaking process.
One of the Quicksilver initiatives is the
E-Rulemaking project.

Let's assume that OMB calculated an
average cost to publish a regulation and
that the budgeting process consisted of
providing a level of resources derived
from that average cost per unit times
the number of regulations you
expected to promulgate that year. Is it
too radical to believe that budgeting for
the costs of these common business
processes may be based on such a
model? I think not.

Agencies Need a Vision

However, while OMB has unflaggingly
pushed the envelope on the practice
of information technology
architecture, the story at the
department and agency levels is much
more mixed. To be effective, agencies
must have a vision of what mission
success is; sponsorship must come
from a level senior enough to ensure
that key organizational components
participate in development of the
architecture; and they must have
agreement on a governance process
that will let the agency use the
architecture to drive the organization
to its vision.

Several large departments have
sizable IT and business process
architecture efforts under way, and
they have made good progress with
them. They have demonstrated
progress with the three key
components of success: vision,
sponsorship and governance.

However, too often, agencies do
not have these elements in place.
Instead, they are developing
architectures in the stovepipe of
the IT organization, with little
over-the-horizon thinking regarding
a governance process.

Illumination will come as time
brings understanding and maturity.
But it may not matter. As anyone
involved with government knows,
in the end the budget is the most
effective management tool.

That raises the paramount
question: How soon and how far will
the performance budgeting envelope
be pushed?


In November 2003, 114
federal IT managers
participated in a survey by
the Association for Federal
Information Resources
Management (AFFIRM) and
rated the top 10 challenges
they faced that year.

1 Getting adequate funding
for IT programs and

2 Hiring and retaining skilled

3 Formulating or implementing
an enterprise architecture

4 Implementing IT capital
planning and investment
management across
the agency

5 Unifying islands of
automation within their
lines of business across

6 Making the business
and cultural changes
needed for full E-Gov

7 Aligning IT and
organizational mission

8 Consolidating common
IT functions

9 Simplifying business
processes to maximize the
benefit of technology

10 Balancing public access
to information with the
need for information

Source: AFFIRM Web site: